what's the best way for me to appeal my unemployment claim?
November 20, 2012 4:33 PM   Subscribe

what's the best way for me to appeal my unemployment claim?

I live in CA and, after over 2 months since filing the claim, have been denied unemployment. I'm really worried about money and believe that I should get benefits. I am going to appeal, but want to go about it the best way possible to be approved.

My first major job was Awful Job, a full-time job with benefits. It ended up being terrible, and a horrible mismatch for my personality in terms of culture, industry, everything. After 9 months of working there I was severely (my psychiatrist's term) depressed and was barely functioning beyond going to work and sleepwalking through my day.

Finally, after working at Awful Job for 1.5 years, I found other work, at Better Job. It was somewhat similar, entry-level administrative work, though with more responsibilities, and at an awesome small business in a field that is a big part of my personal hobbies and passion. It paid the same hourly rate, but instead of being 40 hours a week, was 21 hours a week.

I loved it, but after working there about 3 months, I was fired. As you will see below there's no reason to go into detail, but basically I was good to great at 95% or so of my responsibilities, but my mess-ups on those other 5% had major consequences. I think that with time I could have overcome those, but for such a small business, it was too big a deal for a learning curve.

I applied for unemployment, and went through the whole process, talking about Better Job and why I was let go. My former employers still like me and wish it could have worked out too, so I'm sure they supported me when the EDD contacted them. It was looking like I was going to get benefits. Then I got a call from EDD - they wanted to know whether my work at Better Job was as an independent contractor. It was, so I said yes. It turned out this meant I had to do the process all over again, with Awful Job.

That took weeks, and now I've finally received a letter saying that I have been denied benefits because I voluntarily quit Awful Job to take another job that was less permanent and/or paid less than it did.

I am going to appeal. But what's the best approach? On the one hand it says I can write a letter rather than cramming an explanation into the tiny space on the form, but on the other hand my experience dealing with the CA EDD is that they are vastly understaffed, so I don't want to do something that will take a lot of someone's time and annoy them. Should I write a letter and just try to keep it brief? How brief?

Should my appeal mention that I became depressed at Awful Job, and that the switch was for mental health reasons? (I mean, I was also excited to work in the field of Better Job!) Would I need documentation about the mental health reasons? This is complicated because the psychiatrist I was seeing was through insurance from Awful Job, which of course I no longer have! I do have a therapist I am paying for out of pocket who would write something, but I'm not sure that's a good idea - I mean, I wasn't too depressed to work, and wouldn't claim that...

Should it say that I took Better Job because there was not much room for advancement at Awful Job, and I would be taking on a lot more tasks and challenges with Better Job? While not the primary reason I switched, this is true, unless I wanted to stay in the field of Awful Job, it was a good career move - I am applying for jobs now based on a lot of skills I acquired at Better Job. My inclination is to argue that Better Job was meant to be permanent - and I am sure I could get my former employers at Better Job to back me up on that. But what about the fewer hours? Hope me!

(I'm of course applying for jobs, but even if I get one next week, I would also like the back unemployment benefits from the months this process has been going on!)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Frankly, if "because I voluntarily quit Awful Job to take another job that was less permanent and/or paid less than it did" is a disqualifying reason, then it sounds like you are not qualified to receive unemployment benefits.
posted by wrok at 4:48 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

You should talk to an unemployment lawyer. Seems like it would be well worth your while.
posted by grouse at 4:51 PM on November 20, 2012

To make a long story short, please confirm; you voluntarily quit a permanent job to become a freelancer? (independent contractor) And 3 months later you expect that job to pay for your unemployment?
posted by Sophont at 4:51 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you were doing entry-level administrative work, you were probably not really a contractor from a legal perspective, assuming you were doing the work during their hours, at their location, using their equipment. However, blowing the whistle on Better Job for that might be complicated or have negative ramifications for them (they should have been paying the taxes that would go toward the costs of unemployment $) and/or for your relationship with them.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:52 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure wrok is basically right. However:

whether my work at Better Job was as an independent contractor

It sounds like you were going to this job every day, 40 hours a week, sitting in their office, with the impression it was permanent employment, yes? In that case it is almost certainly not legal for them to classify you as an independent 1099 contractor.

So yeah, kind of what needs more cowbell said. I'm not a lawyer so I can't advise you how to proceed, but it's not cut-and-dried. And sorry you have to go through this crappy situation, you certainly don't deserve to be judged or criticized for catching a bad break.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:55 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, the CA Division of Labor Standards Employment might be able to at least answer some questions about the contractor thing, if you can't afford to go to a lawyer.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:00 PM on November 20, 2012

It might be well worth it to get a statement from your Psychiatrist about Awful Job and what it did to your mental health. It doesn't sound like you quit on a lark or just to take this other job, you quit to regain your health.

(FWIW, I had nearly the same situation in Washington State a decade back. I quit due to health reasons, and they took statements from both me and my doctor on this. It took a while, but I was able to successfully appeal and get my UI.)
posted by spinifex23 at 5:11 PM on November 20, 2012

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
I was technically 1099, but yeah, I went to their office and did work during their business hours. I didn't quit to freelance, I quit to take this job that was meant to be permanent. I could definitely get support from my former employers that the job was meant to be permanent, but I was fired (I didn't finish a project or contract, I was fired!).

It's true that if I'd stayed there longer I wouldn't have remained 1099 - they're a small business, fewer than 6 people - so I was looking into setting up a more formal payroll system, becoming an actual employee, etc., but didn't stay long enough to do that. Again, I can get my former bosses to back me up on that in writing if necessary.

In that case it is almost certainly not legal for them to classify you as an independent 1099 contractor.
So it was actually 20 - 30 hours a week, but yeah. The thing is I like my formal employers and would like to remain on good terms with them! I don't want to cause legal trouble for them. I just want my benefits!
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:18 PM on November 20, 2012

Not any kind of legal person, but have worked extensively as a 1099 independent contractor in the past:

When you are working as an independent contractor, you do not pay into unemployment; you are considered to be self-employed and so you aren't eligible to receive unemployment based on your 1099 work.

Whether it was legal for them to classify you as a 1099 worker I can't say, but being ineligible for unemployment if you are let go is one of the big downsides of being an independent contractor.
posted by matcha action at 5:22 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think you cannot file for unemployment from Awful Job, because you voluntarily left. If you claim that it was causing medical problems, they will ask what reasonable attempts you made to keep your job, such as request a transfer or leave of absence. This is in the FAQ. Perceived better opportunities are not part of the "good cause" justifications.

So, you are looking at Better Job. Let's look at that more carefully. As an independent contractor/sole proprietor, your job is your business. That boss? He was not your boss, he was your customer. Your customer did not pay for unemployment insurance for you. Now, he might have misclassified you, or perhaps you two both agreed to misclassify you. If you aren't sure about misclassification, see this .pdf publication from the IRS, starting with page 7. Basically, were you running your own business (even badly)? Setting your own hours, working from your office, selecting and buying your own tools, being responsible for your own profit and loss, paying quarterly estimated taxes and both halves of FICA? Then you were a 1099.

If not, that's fraud. I believe the first step in correcting this problem is to contact the IRS. They have information on that, too -- see this page, about halfway down.

After all that gets sorted out, you probably can go back and file unemployment using the Better Job (although, you were fired so that's also tricky because it has to be of "no fault of your own").

I'm sorry you're going through this. Please be careful to understand exactly what's involved when you agree to work 1099.
posted by Houstonian at 5:40 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Other folks have explained the 1099 issue, let me briefly address the possibility of claiming on Awful Job. IANAL, and I don't think it's a bad idea for you to talk to someone who is. I was until recently a union staffer in California, and dealt with some more complicated EDD issues.

Making a claim based on your employment with AJ, would mean telling EDD to essentially ignore what you've been doing since (except that your payments would be reduced by what you've earned) because AJ was your last actual "employment" and the last time you paid into UI.

You would have to show that you lost that job through no fault of your own, and as you quit that means you will have to prove that you had no other choice. You will have to document the problems AJ caused (sounds like you might have that) and show how you tried to get accommodations or fix the problems (sounds like you didn't really do that). The bar is really high, they really mean "no other choice" not "had a better option" and they want actual evidence.

My casual reading of your situation is that you can't get unemployment benefits here. Which really sucks and I'm sorry. Don't let me prevent you from checking with a lawyer though.

By the way, the best way to contact EDD is through the email form on their website. They do respond and their folks are actually usually nice and helpful once you get one!
posted by crabintheocean at 6:59 PM on November 20, 2012

You did admin work for Better Job? At their office, under their supervision? You were not an independent contractor, admins never are. Here is the test to see if you were a contractor or an employee.
posted by Garm at 7:23 PM on November 20, 2012

Based on all of the above and some of the conflicting details in your explanation, I'd endorse the consultation with an employment attorney.
posted by batmonkey at 7:47 PM on November 20, 2012

Here's how I see it.

1. Voluntarily left job 1

2. Fired for cause from Part-time job 2

3. Not eligible for unemployment from either job

The fact that you agreed to a 1099/independent contractor situation is sort of moot. The fact that job 2 was Part-Time is THE HUGE factor weighing against you.

Unemployment is for folks who are laid off, not fired for cause or who voluntarily quit their jobs, or for people with part-time jobs.

Harsh, but true.

You may engage a lawyer to fight this for you, but on the face of it, based upon what you've told us here, there's no way, shape or form that it's appropriate for you to receive unemployment.

The best thing for you to do is to get a new job as quickly as possible. Filing an appeal just keeps you mired in a victim mentality. And frankly, unless someone is asleep at the wheel, I don't see how an appeal will help.

Seek an employment attorney's advice if you think it will help, but you'd be throwing your dwindling money into a black hole, IMHO.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:45 AM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Perhaps it matters in other states, i don't know, but it is totally irrelevant in California whether a lost job was full or part time (except that it might affect the level of benefits). The problem for the OP is the voluntary quitting of the first job and the 1099 status at the second.

I find it "appropriate" for anyone who has lost a job they needed to receive some help. The OP is in an unfortunate position, I don't think accusing them of having a victim mentality helps.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:22 PM on November 21, 2012

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